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City struggles with permit backlog

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Getting the city of Austin to approve a residential permit is taking longer than ever. The department has a backlog of more than 600 applications and it could get worse before it gets better.

Planning and Development Review Department says they've been delayed in the past but nothing like this. They are running more than two months behind on work that is supposed to be reviewed in just seven days.

The city of Austin may be a tech friendly city but you'd never know it looking at how the city's Planning and Development Review Department is trying to do business.

"Fundamentally we are this many weeks behind," Assistant Director for Planning and Development Review, Don Birkner said. "We have a few left of the week of October 1st thru 5th."

Rolls and rolls of blue prints are permit applications waiting to be processed. He says the staff he has now is just trying to stay above water when it comes to reviewing the hundreds of plans they receive each month.

"We're doing everything we know how to do in terms of working overtime, drafting folks in from other departments," Birkner said.

The issue he says is 75-percent of his review staff left this year. Currently there are only six planners and two more will be coming in later this month but they must go through a six month training before they're able to take on any work load. That means a process that is by mandate supposed to take two to seven days is taking at least eight weeks.

"I submitted new constructions Oct. 4th and I'm still waiting on the first round of comments," said Hector Avila.

Avila's application is one about 650 that remains to be processed.

"I check on it every week and nowhere," Avila said.

The delay has prompted applicants to complain to city council members. In a memo to city council the Planning and Development Review Department heads say they are considering changing the review process to expedite the process. But they will not be able to get anywhere without two additional full time staff members and a little help from technology.

Birkner says reviewing all this paper electronically will cut down on time substantially.

"With as long as my people have been under this pressure, under this stress if something doesn't happen before too long to relieve some of the stress we could lose more people," Birkner said.

Already his staff has had to work more than 325 hours of overtime and it could take another six months before they finally get caught up.

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Austin, TX 78701

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Fax: (512) 495-7001

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